Tracking coal mining in Appalachia


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Mountaintop removal in West Virginia (KKC/flickr)

Eden DeWald| August 1st, 2018

Researchers at Duke University are using a satellite imagery mapping tool to track mining activities in Appalachia. According to their paper, published in PLOS ONE, the experts at Duke estimate that 21,000 acres of land has been transformed each year since 1985 due to mountaintop mining. The study tracked areas in the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Mountaintop mining is categorized as surface mining, unlike traditional mining strategies. Vegetation is clearing from the top of a mountain, then explosives are used to destroy the surface of the hill or mountain. This process exposes any coal underneath. Mountaintop mining poses many problems. Rubble leftover is often pushed into the existing valleys, which blocks and contaminates streams and destroys animal habitats.

Tracking landscapes that have been destroyed and transformed due to mountaintop mining is necessary to better understand the effect that this process has had on Appalachian ecosystems. The data from this study is free and open to the public. You can find downloadable files of the imagery here.

On The Radio – Global sand shortage presents environmental problems


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What was once a sand mine sits abandoned in Rangkasbitun, Indonesia. (Purnadi Phan/flickr)
Jenna Ladd| August 21, 2017
This week’s On The Radio segment discusses how the international sand shortage is leading to the degradation of waterways.

Transcript: A global sand shortage is having detrimental impacts on waterways.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The demand for sand has skyrocketed in recent years due to rapid urbanization worldwide. Sand is used to make the concrete and asphalt for every new building, road, and residence. More than thirteen billion tons of sand were mined for construction last year, with 70 percent going to Asia.

At present, sand is being extracted too fast for natural systems to replenish. To keep pace with exploding demand, sand miners are dredging lakes and rivers, chipping away at coastlines and destroying entire small islands. Sand extraction in rivers often deepens the channel, making bank erosion more likely. Similarly, when miners remove sediments, they often also remove plant life, which can have adverse impacts on aquatic food chains.

More wealthy western countries are beginning to use sand alternatives. For example, asphalt and concrete can be recycled and crushed rock can be used instead of sand in some cases.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org. From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Study: Mining can affect fish habitats miles downstream


XXX (Wesley Daniel, Michigan State University)
Mining occurs in all 50 states for natural resources ranging from coal to salt. (Wesley Daniel; Michigan State University)

Nick Fetty | November 25, 2014

A recent study by researchers at Michigan State University finds that mining can have adverse effects on fish habitats many miles downstream from the mine itself.

The study was published in this week’s issue of the journal Ecological Indicators with funding provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. Much of the study’s focus was on heavy mining areas in the United States, such as the Appalachia region, but also included relatively unstudied areas such as Illinois and Iowa.

Mining occurs in every state for wide range of natural resources from coal and precious metals to sand and salt. While larger rivers are able to dilute the damage caused by mining operations, smaller streams are more susceptible to pollution. These smaller streams often feed into larger watersheds which then affects fish habitats and causes other ecological concerns.

The Northern Appalachian (NAP) ecoregion encompasses most of Illinois and Iowa as well as parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. Compared to the Southern Appalachian (SAP) and Temperate Plains (TPL) ecoregions, the NAP ecoregion has the highest density of mines with nearly 40 mines per square kilometer, including 714 mineral mines and 1,041 major coal mines.

The report concluded that “the US has the world’s largest estimated recoverable reserves of coal, and production will increase over the next two decades, suggesting that alteration of stream fish assemblages may intensify in the future.”